Caroline Ward-Holland and son Kagen Holland
[KHTS] – A Santa Clarita Valley woman and her son are leading a 650-mile pilgrimage to all of the California missions in protest of Wednesday’s canonization of Father Junipero Serra, the original architect of the mission system.
Caroline Ward-Holland and her son, Kagen Holland, are Tataviam descendants from the Castaic area. Their ancestors have been living in the Santa Clarita Valley for 1,600 years.
“After hearing Pope Francis announce that he was going to give sainthood to Serra, I was appalled. I was literally sick to my stomach,” Ward-Holland said. “He was at the forefront of all the authorities to my family and he is going to be granted sainthood?”
Ward-Holland and her son were originally going to walk from their family’s home to the San Fernando Mission but decided to walk to all 21 California missions, starting at the northernmost and working their way down the coast to San Diego.
The pair have been joined at various stages of the walk by other native community members and have garnered a fair amount of media attention along the way. They were expected to be in Carmel, where Serra is entombed, on Wednesday.
Follow their trip on the website, “Walk for the Ancestors.”
Serra’s grave marker at the Carmel Mission.
“We are the first people of this nation,” she said. “(Serra’s canonization is) an insult. It’s disrespectful. It’s saying (we) are second-class citizens.”
From 1769 until his death 15 years later, Serra worked in California as part of the Spanish empire’s expansion from Mexico City. Serra founded nine missions from San Diego to San Francisco from age 55 until his death at 70.
Serra initiated the building of the missions that line California and remain a top tourist attraction, according to a CNN report. Every fourth-grader in the state must learn the history of the 21 Spanish missions.
“It wasn’t that that the native peoples were dragged into the missions by force, but they kind of had little choice in some senses because there at least was some kind of food there,” said Professor Robert Senkewicz of Santa Clara University, in a CNN interview.
Once in the missions, the Indians were baptized and couldn’t leave without permission.
If they didn’t return on time, the priest would dispatch soldiers and other mission Indians, “and they would forcibly bring people back to the mission,” Senkewicz said. “It’s an odd sort of thing which is very difficult to understand now because people were invited into the mission.
“When they were returned, the punishment was flogging, and the flogging was very severe and it was very, very intense, and it was meant to be a painful deterrent,” the historian added. “And the flogging was pretty brutal at times.”
No documented evidence exists, however, that Serra himself flogged or used corporal punishment on the Indians, according to the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
Serra often distanced himself and his missions from the soldiers’ garrisons, and he “was constantly critiquing the military for its treatment of the Native Americans,” including rape of Indian women, said Fr. Ken Laverone, a church canon lawyer and a Franciscan in Sacramento who as vice postulator is two degrees removed from the Vatican in Serra’s canonization process, according to CNN.
“The historical record of this era remains incomplete due to the relative absence of native testimony, but it is clear that while missionaries brought agriculture, the Spanish language and culture, and Christianity to the native population, American Indians suffered in many California missions,” according to the official California school curriculum, from a CNN report. “The death rate was extremely high. Contributing factors included the hardships of forced labor and, primarily, the introduction of diseases for which the native population did not have immunity. Moreover, the imposition of forced labor and highly structured living arrangements degraded individuals, constrained families, circumscribed native culture and negatively impacted scores of communities.”
Ward-Holland said the Pope “is putting a rubber stamp of these actions being OK.”
An estimated 300,000 Indians were living in California prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1769. Within a couple of decades, their population was reduced to about 150,000.
Thousands of Native Americans are buried in mass graves under the missions, according to CNN and Ward-Holland.
“They discovered St. Peter’s remains under the Vatican. They are adorned in gold,” Ward-Holland said. “Our people are under a parking lot without so much as a marker.
“I don’t understand why they would reward someone who was so horrible.”
Francis, the first Latin American pope, advanced the sainthood for Serra because he was “one of the founding fathers of the United States” and a “special patron of the Hispanic people of the country,” according to a CNN story.
For many Native Americans, Latinos and others, Serra was no saint, and his pending canonization makes an old wound bleed again, according to CNN. But to those who champion the missionaries’ daring foray into the dominion of American Indians, the sainthood heralds an apotheosis for the padre who brought the word of Christ here.
Many people in Ward-Holland’s family are Catholic. Her father was an altar boy.
“I will sit there and mourn our ancestors (during the canonization),” Ward-Holland said. “The cross is no longer a sign of Christianity. It’s a sign of slavery. Genocide is what Serra did.”